What are political parties that are bereft of defined principles, or, if we can stretch things a bit, ideology? Political parties more bound by vested and personal interests than the need to win elections to put in place core governing principles? Parties that allow turncoats to thrive and shifting alliances to flourish? Dedicated to the shallowest of civic propositions?
The straightforward answer is this. You are looking at Philippine political parties.
The transactional bent of party leaders and members makes Philippine party politics lively and dynamic, but grievously flawed and hopelessly immature. Parties get registered, compete in one election cycle or two, then disappear. Ruling coalitions are viable up to the term of the elected president, who is head of the state and government – and also head of a ruling coalition. When you want to find a point of identification for Philippine political parties, the thing that comes to mind are mushrooms.
Where are the late Monching Mitra’s Laban, Mr. Ramos’s Lakas-NUCD-CMD and Mr. Estrada’s PMP? Gone to political graveyards, everyone of them. The Lakas-NUCD has had two turns as the major coalition , during the presidency of Mr. Ramos and Mrs. Arroyo. Despite the two terms, the 2010 election cycle has practically put the Lakas-NUCD to pasture. The coalition leader, Senator Ramon Revilla Jr., is in jail on plunder charges.
Their state of fecklessness and utter lack of principles that make political party endorsements here practically without value. Media make a big splash of these endorsements, sure. A presidential candidate endorsed by a major political party, like the NPC’s endorsement of the Grace-Chiz tandem for the 2016 elections, got headline treatment. The claims that the NPC is not a monolith and that some are for Mr. Binay and Mr. Duterte stretched the longevity – media wise – of that endorsement.
But in terms of actual electoral bump, or a major push for the candidates, don’t expect too much. Grace Poe’s Supreme Court victory will have more impact on her candidacy than the a very public endorsement from the NPC leadership. What keeps Ms. Poe competitive is the much-admired image of her father, the late movie king, who was, to many, cheated out of the presidency.
Many times, if we look back at our political history, a presidential candidate with the backing of the major political parties, that on paper were political juggernauts, not only fails but fails miserably.
Let’s review the elections of 1992, the first after the presidency of Mrs. Aquino. The first election after martial law to have mainstream political parties in play.
The political behemoth of the 1992 general elections (the presidency, vice presidency and 24 Senate seats in contention) was the late Monching Mitra’s Laban. Around 85 percent of incumbent officials running for re-election (no one was term-limited then and only the likes of incumbent Senators Saguisag and Paterno opted out), pledged to make Speaker Mitra win. The Laban, the behemoth that it was, was propped by smaller independent parties.
Mitra was never a contender, despite the existence of a coalition that was built around his candidacy and the support of around 85 percent of elected officials running for re-election. He placed a miserable fourth, behind Fidel Ramos, Miriam Santiago and Danding Cojuangco. Mr. Ramos, the winner, started his campaign with six congressmen (led by the late Komong Sumulong and Jose de Venecia) and a few town mayors and councilors.
In 1998, history repeated itself. The political machine was the Lakas-NUCD, which spectacularly grew from a small, fledgling party into another giant machine during the Ramos presidency. The Lakas-NUCD candidate was Jose de Venecia, one of the founders of Lakas and one of the few original supporters of Mr. Ramos.
Like Mr. Mitra, the pledge of the Lakas leaders was undying fealty – and victory – to Mr. de Venecia. The big names in politics lined up behind Mr. de Venecia in high-profile, media-covered events. The problem was these political generals were all without voting troops to command. The then speaker never had a chance from the get-go. Erap Estrada walloped de Venecia in the 1998 presidential race.
The Lakas-NUCD tried to resurrect its failed fortunes in the 2010 elections as it lined up endorsements behind Gibo Teodoro. We all know what happened.
The 2016 election cycle, based on data and history, will be of the same old same old. Major party endorsements will be proven useless. No ground troops, field commanders and real generals will be out there to make sure the chosen candidate wins.
Ok, how do political heavyweights really demonstrate their full support for their chosen? Think of the Nevada caucus which was held by the US Democratic Party a few weeks back. Look at what Senator Harry Reid did to ensure the survival of Hillary Clinton, who faced a strong challenge from Bernie Sanders in that pivotal caucus.
Reid, the Nevada Democratic kingpin, called hotel owners and union bosses to let their workers take time off without pay cuts to the caucus for Clinton. When Reid calls, everybody jumps. The hotel and casino workers lined up for Clinton, which translated into a five percent lead in the primary.
We have no such dedicated support in the Philippine context. Only talk, which is cheap, is gladly given.